Thursday, November 26, 2009


:the age of my Aunt Monica (or Aunt Monie, as we lovingly call her)

Last weekend, I went to the small town of Opp, Alabama to celebrate my aunt's 80th birthday. My gift to her was a list of 80 memories and things that I love about her. As I read the list aloud at her birthday dinner, I realized how small and, perhaps, insignificant many of these things may sound. But I took encouragement from the fact that many of the things I remember about Aunt Monie are the very things I fear my daughters totally take for granted - the home cooked meals, the from scratch cookies - all done with love, and therefore making a mark on my heart that I didn't even know was there. Here's my list for Aunt Monie:

  • The example she sets
  • Serving her church
  • Loving her community through food and prayer
  • Being a part of the fabric of her church's life
  • Teaching me to cook after Bekah was born
  • Chicken & dumplings
  • Homemade chicken stock
  • Making our favorite foods every time we visit
  • Chicken & rice
  • Oatmeal Cookies
  • Hashbrown casserole
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Oriental salad
  • Opp peas
  • Cornbread (crispy around the edges, of course)
  • Sugar cookies for picky children
  • Cooking for my wedding reception
  • Sand Tarts
  • Cheese straws
  • Making clothes for my girls
  • Little red riding hood capes
  • ABC dresses
  • Wrap around dresses
  • Gingham fish dress
  • Gingham flower dress
  • Velveteen Christmas dresses
  • Seizing retirement as a great time in her life
  • Joy Club
  • Her love of books (may the Lord bless me with a retirement filled with reading!)
  • Traveling to new places
  • Lunches with her sister
  • Shopping with her sisters
  • Hospitality
  • Opening her home to friends and family
  • Keeping kid's toys under her TV long after her own children were gone
  • Opp Christmas
  • Kid's books hidden away for little readers who visit
  • Being a sister
  • Showing me what to expect as a mom of three daughters
  • Listening to her sisters
  • Ignoring her sisters
  • Telling her sisters what to do
  • Sister trips
  • Family values
  • Loving her family sacrificially
  • Going through high school with not just two, but three teenage boys
  • Taking such good care of Uncle Fred
  • The joy of grandmotherhood all over again with Sarah Kate
  • Photo albums full of family pictures
  • Being the family historian
  • Trips to Birmingham and back for treatments with never a word of complaint
  • Keeping every program, every newspaper clipping to document our lives
  • Loving me and my family
  • Snack bags for my girls for the long ride home
  • Letting my girls decorate her driveway with sidewalk chalk bodies
  • Helping me after Bekah was born
  • Coming up to see Anna in The Nutcracker
  • Treating my husband like one of the family
  • Disney placemats for fun at home
  • Visiting us in Nashville
  • Letting our family of five overtake her quiet home
  • Little girls sleeping on your floor
  • Traveling to Wisconsin to help us get ready for a wedding
  • Sister plus Shannon trip on the way home from Wisconsin
  • Happy Memories
  • Tins of cookies waiting
  • Chicken & rice after church on Sunday
  • Uncle Fred's books and hats - fascinating to the young Shannon
  • Sharing 70s jewelry for college dress-up parties
  • Braiding my hair and teaching me how to do it
  • Attending Bible Study with me when she's in Nashville
  • Creativity run amok
  • Painting
  • Sewing
  • Cooking
  • Decorating not just her house, but Deb's, Shannon's, whoever will listen
  • Taking and making time for her family
  • The lives she has impacted with her sweet spirit and example
  • The confidence of seeing her in heaven
  • A life lived to the fullest

J read my list and said with tears in his eyes, "I would like for someone to say these things about me when I'm 80." So my question for you on this Thanksgiving Day is, "How do you want to be remembered?" And are you living your life in an effort to leave fingerprints on the hearts of those you know and love?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


1 : a design or representation made by various means (as painting, drawing, or photography)
2 a : a description so vivid or graphic as to suggest a mental image or give an accurate idea of something (the book gives a detailed picture of what is happening) b : a mental image

Some friends were talking today about how they feel about pictures. One has an extended family portrait scheduled over the Thanksgiving holidays and while she loves pictures of her kids, she doesn't like to be photographed herself. Another shared that she wants pictures taken of her because she envisions her own death and wants her children to be able to remember her. I've talked before about how I don't like photographs. They ruin my own memory. Because once I've seen the photographic evidence of an event, my own memory of it is, sadly, erased.

For example, I felt like I looked great at my brother-in-law's wedding two and a half years ago.... until I saw the photographs. A very capable and excellent photographer clearly showed that I looked terrible. I was laughing, talking or gesturing in every single photograph. This may have been partly due to the fact that my three children (and husband!) were also in the wedding. So I had a bit on my mind. But I'll now forever believe that I looked harried the entire wedding instead of sleek and sophisticated, which is more of what I was going for.

I was thinking today on my way home about my friend who wants photos of her taken so that her children can remember her and it occurred to me that a picture can never capture what I want my children to remember.

A picture can't show how I loved K this morning:
Me, from upstairs: "K, are you dressed for school?"
K: "No. I want you to rub my back."
Me: "Are you still in bed?" (thinking to myself, 'your sisters have been awake for nearly an hour!)
K: "Yes. Will you rub my back?"
Me, coming down the stairs: "Sure, honey."
And I rubbed her back while she laid in bed and enjoyed it. And we talked about the day that was coming and about school and about life. No picture can capture that.

A picture can't show what I am thinking and feeling as I watch A dance. It can't tell that I am amazed, astonished, captivated and proud that a daughter of mine can do what she does. She not only dances, she brings joy to others, she bares her soul in front of strangers. I can take a picture of her dancing, but it won't show her when I'm dead how much I loved watching her dance.

And a picture can't capture what I feel about B. A picture can't show the mixture of connection I feel to her, the inspiration I get from her, the push I feel from her to be a better me. If she's using all that she is and doing all that she does, can't I do more? But how would you take a picture of this? How could a still image of me with her ever convey how much I love her? It simply can't.

And these words can't either. But, to my mind, they come a bit closer.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


1 : to give assistance or support to (help a child with homework)

Yesterday, K brought home her folder with her schoolwork for the week in it. While I was in the kitchen, she pulled it out and was reviewing it on her own. When I came into the room, she showed one worksheet to me and said, "Mom, look at this 5. It's horrible. It's just horrible. I can't write 5's." First of all, I thought it was adorable that she used the word horrible to describe her handwriting - mine was and still is. I also found it endearing that she cared about her schoolwork. K is enjoying kindergarten just fine, but that's because she has a wonderfully kind and engaging teacher and is surrounded by 19 cool kids her age. From K's perspective, the least important part of school is the learning.

So I was encouraged that she was reviewing her work on her own and that she cared. I was also a tad bit dismayed that handwriting was the subject she chose to care about. I can't even really help her very much since #1) my handwriting, as mentioned, is horrible and #2) I'm left-handed and she is not. Luckily, this inadequacy on my part allowed someone else to step in and use their gifts.

Eight year old B to the rescue. She came into the room as K was lamenting her handwriting and she immediately grabbed a pencil to start helping her sister. After they had used all of the available space on the original worksheet practicing the numeral 5, B went to her room and came out with a handwriting workbook from her own first grade year.

The two sisters laid on the floor, side by side, working on handwriting. B came up with a new way for K to try writing it - she put dots that stood for several points along the 5 and had K connect them. With about a half hour of time together, K was noticeably better - and more confident! - about writing her 5's. In fact, B was such an enthusiastic teacher that I overheard her trying to teach K how to write the alphabet in cursive. I gently reminded her that her five year old sister was still learning to print the alphabet and perhaps we should make sure she could do that well before moving on to cursive (which B hasn't even officially been taught yet!).

So I find myself able, just for a moment, to be thankful for my inadequacies, my failures, the things I lack as a mother. Because it is those things that encouraged B to sit with her little sister and not just help her, not just teach her, but love her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


2 a : to appear in an impressively great or exaggerated form ed large> b : to take shape as an impending occurrence

A big parenting decision looms large right now. In Nashville (but apparently nowhere else in the world), middle school starts in fifth grade. So while I have one lovely year of all three children being at one school, it is only for one year. Because 4th grader A will head off to middle school next year. This is a big enough step, but when combined with the complexity of the Nashville's school (public or private, neighborhood or magnet, homeschool or traditional school), it's a daunting one as well.

In just a few minutes, I will join some friends to visit a few middle schools. I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for...
  • children who look like her and don't look like her since I want a mix of both
  • teachers who are knowledgeable, but kind
  • clean hallways, clean classrooms
  • an old building with character plus modern amenities
  • a principal who cares more about the students than his/her career
  • a school that will challenge her academically without crushing her under the weight of hours of homework
  • an environment where A can keep growing into the person she was meant to be
It's a tall order, isn't it? Because I can't tell these things on the surface. We are blessed to have enough choices that I know A will end up in a school where there are enough desks for every child, where she will be given all of the books she needs, where she will be physically safe. But will she be emotionally safe? Will she be led in a positive direction by both teachers and peers?

And how, exactly, am I to divine all of these things? I really can't. So I'm praying that God will pull out his air traffic controller gear and turn on the runway lights to guide A's landing at the right school. Oh, and for peace for J and I as we attempt to navigate this maze of middle school.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


2 : to assist (one acting or reciting) by suggesting or saying the next words of something forgotten or imperfectly learned : cue

I visited a newly formed writing group earlier this week. An area church is opening their doors for open studio the first Tuesday of every month and some of their members were interested in starting a creative writing group. Another friend joined me because we both feel the need for more accountability in our writing - it's so easy, even when you want to write, to not do it. It's so much easier to do the laundry, wash the dishes, vacuum or even clean the bathrooms. That's easier, that's safer, that's productive. But it doesn't satisfy.

Since it was the first meeting of this group, we spent some time introducing ourselves and talking about scheduling. After getting these bits of business out of the way, we still had time on the clock, so we decided to use a writing prompt and spend some time actually writing. Our prompt was "Why do you write? " or "Why do you want to?" or some variation of that. Here are my thoughts on that.

Why write?
Because the words are there, waiting to escape to the page, circling in my head, running around my mind, lining up into neat little sentences.

Why write?
Because it helps me think and, frankly, it helps me live. It helps me capture those fleeting moments that are gone in the blink of an eye. Because my words capture them, pin them down time and keep the memories preserved for me.

Why write?
To use the gift. And now I am getting to it. I write because it is one of the things that God made me to do. I can fight that - oh, and I do - but there it is - a near mandate from my Creator to create, to capture with words the life that I live and the thoughts that I think.

So, why not write?
Fear, of course and more fear. Fear that keeps me paralyzed. Fear of failing - of trying and not succeeding. Fear that what might be a gift is not. Fear that I will let others down. Fear that I will let myself down. Fear that I will let God down. Fear that he made me and simply forgot to bestow any gifts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


3 a : something learned by study or experience (his years of travel had taught him valuable lessons) b : an instructive example (the lessons of history)

I've been thinking lately about what lessons I can learn from my daughters. Most often, I am trying to teach them - how to behave, how to live, how to be who they were made to be. But last Friday, I took A & K to a dance performance and while watching A dance, I realized that there are lessons they have mastered that still baffle me.

At this performance, my 9 year old danced and led with a quiet self-confidence that eludes many people three times her age. After just one rehearsal, A was comfortable leading seven other dancers in three performances and in dancing two solos. The night before, J asked me how I thought the performance would go - it wasn't the typical group A dances with and the girls were from three different dance classes and ranged in age from 5 to 10. I said I hoped it would go well and J said, "Well, A thinks it will go well." She was right. She stood there and did what God made her to do.

Just before they performed, an acquaintance leaned over and said to me, "A isn't shy, is she?"

"A?" I replied, puzzled.

"Oh, is that B?" she said, thinking she had mistaken one sister for the other.

"No, that's A and you're right, she's not shy when it comes to dancing."

So I think the lesson I can learn from my eldest daughter is to trust my gifts and the use of them. I want to, like A, do what I was made to do and I want to not question that so deeply, so frequently. A didn't argue when her teacher put her on the front row by herself to lead the other dancers. She didn't puff up with pride, either. She just stepped up and used her gift. And frankly, she glowed while using that gift. She reveled in it. And that is a lesson I need to learn.

More to come on lessons from B & K, who are equally wise in their own ways...

Sunday, November 1, 2009


: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place for exercise or physiological testing

I'd like to think of my life as a journey, with no steps wasted, even the hard, difficult, painful steps ultimately leading me to where I need to go. But I must admit that lately I've not felt like I'm on a journey. It's felt much more like a treadmill. I wake up in the morning, hop on the treadmill and run until it's time to go to bed. I feel busy, but I'm not really getting anywhere. Some of this is circumstantial, but some of it is choices I've made.

Last Thursday, for example, I chose to clean my house instead of writing. I actually had a few hours free and could easily have elected to spend the time with a fictional character, writing a personal essay or editing an article draft that has been gathering mental and literal dust. Instead, I straightened, cleaned, dusted, mopped and vacuumed. Now, I'm not saying that those things didn't need to be done (I'm not the most diligent of housekeepers, so they certainly needed doing), but I cleaned to avoid writing.

I mentioned to a wise friend the problems I've been having with making time to write and with the fear that grips me when I think about writing and she asked a great question: "You were doing great for a while. What changed?" It was a simple question, but not one I had asked myself. After thinking for a moment, I decided that what changed was partly beyond my control (lots of outside commitments that threw off my available time), but largely within my control. Essentially, I let circumstances derail my discipline and when that went, the fear of starting again set in.

So instead of being on a productive journey, I've been treading on an endless loop of housework, child-rearing, cooking, and other necessary tasks that aren't getting me anywhere. So I need to step off the treadmill, go back to the world of discipline and get back on track for a journey worth taking.